JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When asked about Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz recalled facing two other mobile quarterbacks this season.
“You want the bad news? Maryland and Minnesota come to mind right away,” Ferentz said.
Maryland’s C.J. Brown accounted for 219 yards, including 99 rushing, in a 38-31 victory over the Hawkeyes in October. Three weeks later, Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner threw for four touchdowns and ran for 77 yards in a 51-14 win against Ferentz’s team.
Now, the Hawkeyes (7-5) will try to deal with Dobbs in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday. Dobbs has won three of four games since taking over the starting job in November, helping the Volunteers (6-6) make their first bowl game since 2010.
“Hopefully we’ll do a little better job defending the quarterback,” Ferentz said.
Since coming off the bench against Alabama in late October, Dobbs has eight touchdown passes, six rushing scores and victories against South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
Dobbs might not have the passing skills of injured starter Justin Worley, but he brings an added dimension to the attack. He has 91 carries for 393 yards in five games.
“All the other players have rallied around him,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “He has leadership characteristics, he has taken control and they believe in him. That’s the biggest thing: they believe in him.”
Although the Hawkeyes struggled to contain Brown and Leidner, they were considerably better against Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the season finale. Armstrong ran 11 times for 31 yards.
They can only hope for similar success against Dobbs.
“To me, their turning point this year was those last four games,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think it was a coincidence a new quarterback took over and they’ve won three out of four games. They come into the game with an awful lot of momentum. He throws and runs. Anytime you play a dual-threat guy like that, it’s a unique challenge.
“We’ll have to be at our best defensively to have a chance here.”
Aside from Dobbs, here are some things to know about Iowa and Tennessee heading into the TaxSlayer Bowl:
FIRST-TIMERS: This is the first bowl game for every Tennessee player. The Volunteers finished 5-7 the three previous years, so they’re considering this a stepping stone to bigger things for one of the youngest programs in college football. “It’s one thing to be a participant in the bowl,” Jones said. “It’s another thing to win the bowl.”
MEMORIES: Jones felt a little nostalgic when he got to his hotel for the game. Working as West Virginia’s receivers coach in 2006, the Mountaineers played in the TaxSlayer Bowl, formerly known as the Gator Bowl. Jones is staying one villa down at the Sawgrass Marriott, where Central Michigan interviewed him and offered him its head coaching position eight years ago. “It’s kind of been a stroll back memory lane,” he said.
NEXT STEP: It’s fitting that Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff is playing his final college game in an NFL stadium. After all, the 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior is widely considered a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. A finalist for the Outland Trophy, Scherff has a tough matchup in his finale. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett set a school record for true freshmen with 10 sacks and 20½ tackles for a loss. “I love competition,” Scherff said. “It’s going to be a great challenge.”
NEW DATE: TaxSlayer Bowl officials believe playing on Jan. 2 — and in an afternoon time slot that has no competition — will boost TV ratings. “Our ratings should be significantly higher,” TaxSlayer Bowl President Rick Catlett said. “We feel like we’re separated from the post-New Year’s Eve games and get the benefit of having no one else in that time slot.”
TICKET SALES: Bowl officials expect about 60,000 in the stands. Most of those will be wearing Tennessee orange. The Volunteers sold their allotment of 8,000 tickets in hours. Iowa sold about half its tickets. “I read something about ticket sales being a little slow. If they were slow, they were really slow in 2012,” said Ferentz, referring to his team missing the 2012 postseason.